When I had my first son, almost seven years ago, it wasn’t until I sat down with my company’s HR person that I really understood just how behind our country was when it comes to maternity leave. And I worked at an awesome company which, all things considered, provided a good package. Even still, taking those three months off to be with our newborn son meant my husband had to go back to work after one week (his paternity leave was a whopping two paid days!) and it put us in a financial strain until I went back to work.
Since then, I’ve spent time better understanding what other countries offer, why the U.S. remains one of the most primitive when it comes to providing paid leave and how we can see bigger changes, even if it’s not led by the government.
Of the world’s 196 countries, the US is one of only four that doesn’t have a federally mandated policy to give new parents paid time off. One. Of. Four. And while it doesn’t look like there will be rapid or sweeping changes anytime soon that brings the U.S. to levels like Sweden, Denmark or other countries, there are changes happening on a private-sector-level that could pave a path for many other Americans.
When Adobe announced their new policy of providing employees with 26 weeks paid maternity leave, 16 paid weeks of paternity leave, their SVP of people and places, Donna Morris, wrote: “We join an industry movement to better support our employees while striving towards increased workforce diversity.” If more companies followed suit and implemented their own progressive policies, despite how much our government lacks in this space, it would foster a more supportive, beneficial landscape for American working families.
Some of the other progressive companies taking pages out of what global leading countries offer include:
Flexibility like Denmark:
While new moms receive 18 total paid weeks off in Denmark (four prior and 14 after baby arrives), it’s the flexibility that the country offers after that sets it apart. Once they’ve gone through the initial 18 paid weeks, parents can split 32 additional weeks off however they see fit. The flexibility of being able to adjust to the role of being a new parent for almost a year gives moms and dads the buffer space to adjust and provide thoughtful paths for their baby. Denmark also offers 14 additional weeks if a child or parent gets sick.
LinkedIn has mirrored components of Denmark’s policies throughout their own workforce. Nina McQueen, VP of Global Benefits & Employee Experience at LinkedIn said that they offer their employees 16 paid weeks of leave for parents and then additional six weeks of paid leave for all employees to tend to sick children, parents and relatives, as needed. Additionally, LinkedIn offers flexibility for parents as they come back to work from their maternity leave, similar to Denmark’s method of re-emergence. McQueen said that before the company put their benefits in place, she and her teams conducted a listening tour with employees to hear what benefits they needed and as such, built their offerings around actual feedback of their employees. Additionally, LinkedIn has built their benefits to support parents throughout the longer-journey, beyond the first year, which is a unique aspect as well.
Baby Boxes like in Finland:
In Finland, expecting mothers can begin their paid leave seven weeks before their due date and then the government provides 16 additional weeks of paid leave, regardless of if the mother is unemployed, a student, self-employed or works full time. And dads get eight weeks of paid leave.
Finland also provides new parents with a “starter kit” of newborn essentials and the box it all comes in serves as a safe place a baby can sleep in for up to six months.
U.S.-based company, Finnbin (which I am part of, full disclosure) is making these boxes available to moms in the U.S. through grants as well as available for purchase in hopes of bringing this beloved tradition to more families. In addition to it playing a big role in combating SIDS in Finland, it also creates a universal, shared experience that all babies have. “The idea that all babies, no matter what economic or other barriers they’re born unto, have a shared experience out of the gate is something that can help unite more of us,” says Shawn Bercuson, co-founder of Finnbin.
Fertility support like India:
India is one of the most affordable countries for in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other infertility treatments anywhere in the world. Some fertility clinics here have been established for 30 years and the country has over 500 individual infertility treatment centers. While it’s not provided for by the government, by having a healthcare system in place that is largely privatized and accessible to all its citizens, it means this resource to starting a family is not only an option to the country’s elite. Unlike the U.S. where a single round of IVF can easily cost over $20,000 (with only a 40% success rate) thus making IVF and fertility support a luxury many U.S. citizens aren’t able to afford.
Employees at Gusto.com have a benefit that provides them with support for IVF and fertility treatment. As a California-based startup, Gusto sees the importance of attracting and retaining women as part of its workforce says Katie Evans Reber, head of HR at Gusto. Additionally, Gusto provides progressive resources for all employees, including gender reassignment surgery and procedures.
Support for Moms like in Australia:
Australia provides expecting and new moms with a wealth of resources, whether support for breastfeeding, sleep training or moral support from other women and mothers. In addition to the other paid leave benefits listed above, Australia recognizes the importance of supporting new mothers through additional, unique resources.
Similarly, MEC, a global media agency, recognizes the importance of support which is why it provides new moms coming back to work with a fellow mom “mentor” who can help during the transition, says Marie-Claire Barker, their head of HR.
Other Leading Companies Paving the Path in America:
Other companies who are pioneering progressive parenting benefits include Netflix, who allow their employees (male and female) to take as much paid time off as they want (up to one year). “Experience shows people perform better at work when they’re not worrying about home,” Tawni Cranz, Netflix’s chief talent officer, wrote on Netflix’s blog. “This policy, combined with our unlimited time off, allows employees to be supported during the changes in their lives and return to work more focused and dedicated.”
Similarly, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation allows employees to take up to a full year of paid time off with the birth or adoption of their new baby. “This will enable parents to participate more fully in their children’s lives, while also allowing them the flexibility and financial certainty to meet the needs of their growing families,” Steven Rice, the foundation’s chief human resources officer, wrote in a statement posted on LinkedIn.
Spotify provides six months of fully-paid parental leave to all full-time employees globally. Parents are able to take it at one time or space it out over the three sections of time over three years. “I think we can be a role model,” says Spotify CEO Daniel Ek.
Even healthcare and CPG giant, Johnson & Johnson provides its employees 17 weeks of paid maternity leave and eight weeks of leave for fathers and adoptive parents.
It’s unfortunate that a country like the United States is one of the furthest behind when it comes to benefits work working parents, however, as more companies recognize the importance of offering flexibility and paid support, hopefully entire industries will follow and offset the poor policies of our country and begin to push us forward once again.
Originally published at medium.com